How do you approach the tried and tested and still deliver something mind-blowing? And when it comes to Mumbai’s underworld, it had better be extra special! The answer is Milan Luthria’s Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai, a perfect blend of original stuff and imagination. What makes this film worth watching is its powerful performances, retro background music, screenplay and dialogue (by Rajat Aroraa) and most of all, Luthria’s brilliant direction.
Unlike many other Hindi films released in recent past, this one keeps you on the edge of your seat, an ambience that is helped along generously by the background score and dialogue that remain with you long after you’ve left the auditorium.
The storyline is simple – a boy comes to Mumbai and soon, he has the city in the palm of his hand. Though everyone calls him “Smuggler”, he’s actually Mumbai’s Robinhood. Soon, people start referring to him as ‘Sultan Mirza’.
Now enter a young chap, Shoaib Khan, who wants to make it big like Mirza. He wins his mentor’s trust but his ambitions are larger than life and, soon, things begin to spin out of control. What follows next forms the crux of the film.
Writer Rajat Aroraa weaves romance and emotion into the screenplay perfectly, not the easiest thing to do in a gangster flick. If Devgn’s character suggests that not all gangsters are bad, Hashmi’s character makes you believe quite the opposite. If Aroraa has penned the emotions exquisitely on paper, Luthria portrays them superbly on screen.
The film has many touching moments – Ranaut visiting Devgn at home on his birthday, Devgn asking a beggar to remember him in her prayers, the beggar spitting on Devgn (remember, not many top actors would have a junior artiste spit on them!) and Devgn asking Ranaut to marry him.
There are many other memorable scenes – Devgn’s idea of dividing the city among gangsters, Hashmi’s introduction when he’s young, Devgn slapping Hashmi at the end, and the confrontation between Hooda and Devgn. And, it’s been such an age since we had a film with quotable dialogue.
Having said that, the film does have its flaws. The pace drops discernibly in the second half and there are many scenes that are hard to believe: the initial smuggling scene where Devgn gets the truck inside the city; Hashmi’s father, an honest police officer, seeking Devgn’s help; and how Prachi Desai learns that Hashmi plans to kill Devgn is unexplained. When Devgn leaves for Delhi and Hashmi begins to call the shots and starts taking over, no one bothers to inform Devgn, which is perplexing.
This is undoubtedly Luthria’s finest work to date. Unlike other filmmakers, he doesn’t play with the camera and every shot brings out the best expression from every actor. The climax and eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation between Devgn and Hashmi is shot beautifully. Art Director Nitin Chandrakant Desai gives the film the perfect ‘70s look. Sandeep Shirodkar is a welcome addition as a background music director. Aseem Mishra captures the film well. Akiv Ali’s editing is very good but he should have tightened the second half a little.
Pritam Chakraborty’s music is first-rate. Pee loon, Tum jo aaye and the remix of Duniya mein logon ko dokha are the best.
The minute the screening is over, you’re convinced only Ajay Devgn could have pulled off this character. He doesn’t say very much but uses his eyes and body language to devastating effect. This is another feather in the National award-winner actor’s decorated hat. Bravo!
Emraan Hashmi is in full form and thanks to Aroraa, who has given him the best dialogue of his career to date, he offers an impressive performance. Kangna Ranaut looks pretty and acts well. During the climax, where Devgn is delivering a speech, Ranaut’s expression of the proud wife is mind-blowing. Prachi Desai makes her presence felt. Randeep Hooda is fantastic and this film will definitely prove to be a turning point in his career. Naved Aslam is competent.
In a nutshell, it’s a film made straight from the heart and will win over audiences. The only hiccup is that the film, being hot property in trade circles, was sold at a high price. Still, it will hit the bull’s eye.